A Mercy Too Wide

I am reading Theodore dalrymple’s excellent book Life At the Bottom. In one essay, “Choosing to Fail”, he illustrates that the social safety net is its own industry and supply for its services grows to meet demand. What has happened in the UK, the US, and other welfare states is that the populace as a whole is made poorer by relentlessly supporting people in their homeless lifestyle. For example, hostels provide places for the homeless to stay so that they never lack for shelter. The shelters are not the Ritz Carlton, but apparently they are not so poor that it motivates the homeless to stop being homeless. The homeless are supported in their lifestyle by a veritable army of researchers, social workers, doctors, nurses, administrators of government programs, and on and on; yet very few are committed to the betterment of such individuals. No, this support apparatus needs a patient, and the homeless are more than willing to comply. From the certain political perspective that aids and abets this tragedy, the homeless are seen as people who cannot do any better than they are currently. They are objects of pity, and worse, they have become infantalized, as all responsibility for their actions are lifted from them. They are not responsible for their food, shelter, or medical care. Their public drunkenness is excused; they can sleep anywhere they wish and they are not shamed for refusing to shower. Society has been taught to tolerate all of this, so there is no social pull upwards. Instead, people just affirm them in their dissolution. No-one is asking, “Is this truly best for those who are homeless?” Is it not better individually, societally, spiritually, any which way you want to measure it, that these people do not burden the public with their care and that they contribute to society with the exercise of their talents? Yet without the homeless, and the poor largely speaking, liberals would have no-one to give their infantalizing mercy to, no-one to burden with a mercy too wide. They themselves would have to find a job that actually bettered society, instead of creating more and new classes of adult children. As you can see, there is an immense inertia in keeping the poor poor so that liberals may feel holy. Real holiness, though, requires seeing those who are worse off as equals, something that the always self-congratulatory and psuedo-magnanimous recoil at doing.

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